Everyone remembers their first day of college.
Perhaps it marks the day you met your lifelong best friend or left home for the first time and had a teary goodbye with your family. Maybe you joined the wrong lecture and sat embarrassed in the back of the room, or even felt the sudden weight of adulthood drop on your shoulders.
But when the class of 2024 looks back on their first days of college, their memories could look dramatically different than those from all the years before.
With online classes and residence hall limitations, the university will not be welcoming students to campus with the normal celebrations. As a result, incoming freshmen have had to adjust expectations for the start of their college career.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Chancellor Henry T. Yang announced in June that courses for fall quarter would be primarily online, later confirming that less than 3% of classes would be in person and that freshman housing would be limited to certain single-occupancy rooms. This flurry of new changes placed many incoming students’ fall quarter plans on shaky ground.
For incoming freshmen like Anshul Panda, learning that he would be spending the beginning of his college years behind a computer left him with mixed emotions. As a pre-statistics and data science major, Panda said his main concern is staying motivated while mourning the loss of the iconic freshman experience.
“Of course in college, students have to be more independent and self-motivated as people and in the classroom, but the students who are better at learning on their own may be better off than students who are not,” Panda said.
Panda also said he worries about missing out on the classroom experience and personal interactions that come with in-person instruction.
For pre-economics major Priti Sharma, the first day of college might not look all that different from her last days of high school — conducted virtually. Regardless, after a summer of social distancing and quarantining, she said the jump into fall quarter will be a bitter welcome to the new school year.
Sharma decided to stay home for fall quarter but worries about being able to make friends that could support her through her classes and that she could spend time with during her downtime.
“Because I am staying home for the fall, I am honestly really scared that I will not be able to find people to become friends with and study with,” Sharma said.
Incoming first-year pre-biology major Audrey Pham said the news of an online fall quarter came as no surprise to her, as her senior year of high school was cut short due to the pandemic.
“A couple of months ago, I was really hoping that [fall quarter] would be in person, but at this point, I have become used to the idea of online school,” Pham said.
Pham is still struggling to decide on her housing for fall quarter and is weighing the options of staying home or moving to Isla Vista. UC Santa Barbara will only be open partially, and she expects that opportunities to meet fellow student peers will be forgone for this quarter. She also worries about being homesick while relegated to studying in her room.
“If I stayed home, yes, I would miss out on the whole dorming college experience, but in reality, there will probably be more to do at home than on campus,” Pham said.
However, not all students are navigating online school for the first time this year. Kylee Lou, an incoming first-year psychological and brain sciences major, feels that she has an edge over most other students. She graduated in April from Connections Academy, an online public K-12 school, and is currently enrolled in the Freshman Summer Start Program (FSSP).
“I honestly feel like my transition from high school into college has been a lot better than I thought it would be, even with classes being online, because of my online school experience and FSSP,” Lou said.
Like Lou, incoming first-year English major Maya Dighe said the online fall quarter would not be a much of a transition for her, having been homeschooled for her entire K-12 academic career.
“I am used to taking classes online, so if anything, the transition for me would be taking classes in person,” Dighe explained. “However, I am pretty sad that we cannot attend classes in person because I was really looking forward to it.”
Although she is disappointed that classes will not be in person this fall, Dighe also appreciates the precautions the university is implementing to keep students safe and looks forward to seeing how professors adjust instruction for an online format.
“I am hopeful that the professors are able to find creative solutions to compensate for the lack of in person interactions that will occur in the fall,” Dighe said.
But not all students are as optimistic about the turnout for the online fall quarter. Kai Brady, a student tennis player, deferred his first quarter at UCSB after the tennis season was postponed. He hopes to spend the time until winter quarter training on his own by following the training regimen of the UCSB tennis team.
“Since I do not know if we would practice or if players on the team would even show up this fall, I did not want to pay for the quarter to get half an experience,” Brady said. “So I talked to my coach about it, and he recommended that I defer, so now I am planning on staying home, practicing, playing in tournaments and becoming a better player overall.”
For the parents of incoming freshmen, the reality of this school year has brought disappointment and concern. One parent, Charlene Roger, is concerned about risking COVID-19 exposure for her son, as he will be moving into the dorms this fall.
“My husband and I feel ambivalent about our son’s start at UCSB,” Roger said. “As expected, he has concerns on how everything will play out this year, as do we.”
Roger worries mostly about the quality of education her son will receive from an online format, especially in conjunction with the cost of tuition.
“Although there may be additional costs involved in creating and offering an online instruction platform this year, we feel students should be entitled to a discount during the timeframe where their only option is online learning,” Roger said.
Mitch and Rowena Preciado are also sending their son to UCSB this fall. They, too, have reservations. The Preciados said they are unsure of how well UCSB will be able to protect students from COVID-19 exposure and how living in single-occupancy dorms will affect students’ social and mental health.
With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in I.V. heading toward 150 this week, the Preciados said they have doubts that students will follow social distancing and COVID-19 safety practices to keep themselves and each other safe.
“The more kids you have, the harder it is to control,” Rowena said. “The virus is not something to mess around with. Your decision will affect other kids and you could bring the virus home to your parents if [you’re] not careful.”
Despite all of these challenges and the uncertainty ahead, some students say keeping a positive outlook for the next quarter could be the key to surviving college in a pandemic.
“I am trying to stay optimistic, as that definitely helped me get through these past couple of months, especially with my high school senior year being cut short,” Pham said.
“I am also trying to find things to be grateful for, such as being able to spend more time with my family and friends at home.”